-Helping Hands-

The evening meal is in process in the dome city. The roof of the top layer of residences, the upper concourse, is a general pram area where exercise and community activities take place. Tonight, due to the newcomers, a special dinner is laid out, buffet style. Children run along the roof and down the stairs on ramps that periodically descend to the center, chasing each other and playing games. A home-town band is playing some music, a banjo and violin and snare drum in an odd combination, along with a few singers who are remarkably good given the circumstances. Some couples are dancing along with the music, in front of where the band has congregated.

Jonah and Ian and Colonel Cage, seated at a table, holding and sipping from their cups and chatting. Ian and Colonel Cage are trying to adjust to this new measure of plenty and security. Ian is anxiously asking about security, whether they have had any raids or intrusions. Jonah answers, in a matter-of-fact manner.

We're protected.

This brings a frown to Ian's forehead. Have they walked into the enemy camp, by mistake? After hesitating for a minute, he blurts out a question.

Protected by who?

Colonel Cage has been watching the conversation, his eyes flicking from one to the other, growing calmer as something momentous is about to emerge, his military background coming to the fore. Jonah says,

We're not alone, haven't been, but now they can come forward more.

Ian has a blank, uncomprehending, look on his face. Jonah says,

You know, the space people, they're here, and they helped us build this. Oh, you won't see much of them if at all, but they're always around, and we've got some special children to prove it.

Ian's eyes widen, staring at Jonah's face. What next?

Come on, I'll show you.

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Jonah has taken Ian and Colonel Cage to the gardens in the center of the dome city, where the children play. Jonah is sitting on one of the benches there, speaking warmly and quietly to some children standing in front of him, as though he frequently does this, is familiar to them, and has a good rapport with them. They have large frontal lobes and delicate chins, larger than normal eyes, and listen more than they speak. They seem to anticipate each other's movements, stepping back in sync with a step forward by another and the like. The din of children's voices can be heard in the background. Jonah says,

.. planning to have an art fair, a craft fair, on the concourse soon, right?

The hybrid child in the center responds to something other than what Jonah has been saying, responding to his thoughts, not his words.

They'll adjust quickly because they've been living like us already. You'll see, there won't be any adjustment at all.

Colonel Cage leans forward to ask a question.

How do you know?

The child looks calmly at him.

You're right to be worried, they need you. They don't know how to find you, don't know where you are.

There is a silence, but finally Colonel Cage responds, an obvious knot in his throat.

They're in trouble? The Army had facilities! They said . . they told us that . . that ..

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Outside the dome city entrance, Colonel Cage is taking his leave, saying good-by to Jonah. They stand in front of the dome entry, at the end of the long igloo style tunnel that acts as a weather shield before the sliding doors at the edge of the dome itself.

I've got to try, even if I die trying. I have no idea if these maps are any good anymore, it's 200 miles away as the crow flies, and God knows if I'll make it or what I'll find.

Colonel Cage is traveling light, holding a black cloth satchel that he slings over his shoulder as he turns and walks into the woods. A tall gray Zeta comes forward into view, moving up to be shoulder to shoulder with Jonah. Jonah is still watching the Colonel disappear into the woods.

He's going to need help.

The Zeta puts his hand momentarily on Jonah's shoulder, then heads off after Colonel Cage.

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Colonel Cage is walking along the outskirts of what used to be a mid-sized city. He is traveling at night, for safety, his body standing out briefly in profile against a flaming pile of trash that someone has pulled together and lit. Broken boards stick up now and then, hazards, and tumbled down cement blocks litter the streets as he picks his way though the rubble. There are shouts in the distance, and what sound like hysterical laughter now and then.

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Past the city now, and traveling by day, Colonel Cage is standing at the edge of a rip in the earth. Foot hills leading down into a river valley have been torn apart, bare earth exposed in stark contrast to the trees or fields on either side. He stands gazing over the scene, a slight frown on this face, and then reaches into his back pocket for a map, which he flips through, looking increasingly puzzled. He finally shakes his head and mutters under his breath.

If that's the river, then I made 150 miles in one day!

He returns the map to his back pocket, leans down for his satchel, and strides off down along the edge of the rip toward the river.

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It is night time, the rain pouring steadily, drenching everything. It is so dark, with only an occasional dim edge outlined in the dark, that it takes a minute for us to see Colonel Cage's features as he stands in the rain. Peering through the dark, Colonel Cage must squint for several minutes to see an occasional outline in the dark. Progress has been slow, along the last leg of his journey, but he is recognizing landmarks, so very near home at last. He is still, staring into the broken windows of what used to be his house. Nothing moves, and there are no lights or sounds. He hears a young boy's voice behind him.

Dad?

Colonel Cage turns so rapidly he is almost a blur, as he sweeps the boy into his arms. After a long silent bear hug, during which the two of them seem unable to let go of each other, the Colonel sets the boy down, his voice husky.

Where's your mother and John?

The boy says,

They're all right, come on.

Excitement and eagerness are in his voice as he takes his dad by the hand. They stumble off into the dark, Colonel Cage stumbling after his young son, both walking too fast for the circumstances, but too eager to get where they're going to care.

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Next day the four-some are walking cautiously along a tree bank. All are dressed in dull clothing that blends in with the soggy dark green and mustard yellow of the vegetation, and when out in the open crouch down and scuttle across the open space, so as not to attract attention from anyone who might be looking. Colonel Cage is visibly nervous, but is not sharing with his family the reasons for his fear. They hear voices, and he signals all to drop to the ground and not make a sound. The Colonel's face is pale and he is trembling, showing his extreme fear that his family will be tortured and killed, as he has seen done to others. He has his youngest, John, beside him, and has his hand over his mouth, is signaling his wife and oldest son with his eyes as to the seriousness of the situation.

A group of men is passing, talking and arguing among themselves. A voice rings out almost on top of where the family is crouched, joining in the conversation without missing a beat. The terrified family hears a zipper unzip, then someone pissing, then hear the sound of a fly being re-zipped. The one who just relieved himself walks right past the youngest boy as though not seeing him, rejoining the others. The other looks his way also, and seems not to see the family, plastered against the ground right between them, holding their breath. As they walk on they are watched by a tall Zeta standing next to a tree, his arms folded across his chest. The family remains still until no voices can be heard. Colonel Cage lifts his head slightly and casts his eyes all around, and seeing nothing, warns in a whisper.

Follow me, but as quiet as you can.

He moves slowly so as not to snap a twig, picking up speed only when they get to a grassy area along a creek where the sound of running water covers the swishing of their legs against the grass. When Colonel Cage can look in all directions and see the coast is clear, he breaths a sigh of relieve.

I don't know why they didn't see us. They were right on top of us, the oddest thing.

He's shaking his head, a slight frown on his head, but a realization dawns on him as he puts together the fast trip he's had and this incident. He mutters to himself.

It's them.

His oldest son is looking at him with a puzzled look, but gets no explanation.

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A patch of cat tails is in a marshy area abutting a stream. There are woods in the backdrop. The cat tails are several feet thick, growing where the water is only a foot or less deep, their brown seed pods not yet mature so the seeds have not yet been released. One of the pod stalks starts wigging back and forth, and then drops straight down. A frog is sitting on a rock amidst the cattail patch. A sharpened stick comes zinging out from the cattail patch, toward the side of the frog. The frog croaks.

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The pot has a lid on it and is jiggling as the water inside is boiling furiously. A frog leg can be seen sticking out of the pot, the foot and part of the leg visible. A cattail leaf is also sticking out, plastered against the side of the small pot.

I know it's tough. Eat as much of it as you can.

The family is squatting around the boiling pot, the youngest son looking unconvinced. They are very dirty from days on the road without baths or clean clothes. Colonel Cage's wife's hair is tangled with small sticks caught in the tangle here and there. She is smiling at her husband with unabashed admiration.

We're going to be taking the leftovers with us, so don't expect anything better for awhile. This will keep you going.

The youngest son, looking a bit despondent, puts a cattail seed pod to his mouth, like a corn dog, and takes a munch. Finding the taste tolerable, his face relaxes and he starts eating with gusto.

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Colonel Cage and his wife and sons are walking in through the entry of the dome city, wet and looking tired but obviously deeply happy. Danny, having a morning cup of coffee with Red, splashes hot coffee on himself by jerking his cup at seeing the family, trying to raise his hand up to point while still holding the cup. He's choking on his coffee as he talks through coughs.

Its them! They made it! Damn if they didn't make it.

Red's craggy face is wrinkled with happiness, but he just sits and takes it all in, not moving or saying anything. Big Tom's voice booms out combined with Billy's chirping voice, as they greet the new family.

You found them! Damn! Here, have a seat, have my seat.

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Billy is giving Colonel Cage's two boys a tour of the dome city, while also still exploring it himself. Both Colonel Cage's boys have now had a bath and are wearing fresh clothes. Billy is using the tour as an excuse to poke around in places he has not yet explored, using his tour guide voice as an entry pass, or so he hopes.

. . And here on the lower level, ah . .

Billy opens a door on the level that is below the living quarter. This level does not have a patio, just doors that lead out onto the grassy center. There is a pathway around this level, a concrete walkway close to the outer walls of this level, but nothing that would hint at what lies behind the doors. Billy charges in through the door, hoping his bravado and tour guide voice buys him an excuse at whatever he finds behind the door. He comes face to face with a nanny goat, standing on a milking station.

Baaaa

Billy stops shock still, the other two boys bumping into him, the lot ricocheting back a step or two.

Whoa!

The woman milking the goat casts a sleepy glance at the boys, nonplussed, and continues with her morning task. The room is filled with several goats, a couple kids, and a billy goat tied up temporarily over at the side. The billy goat lowers its head slightly while looking at the brash newcomers, contemplating the threat. At the side of the room there is a feeding trough, filled with what looks like slimy greenery. Finding his voice, Billy continues.

. . goat's milk. And we feed them, ahm . .

The sleepy woman, seeing what is going on, smiles to herself and turns her head.

We feed them algae. Grows quickly in bright light and effluent. We recycle everything here, including our waste.

Billy is momentarily set back, his face a blank, not knowing her terms, but then gets a hint of what she is talking about.

Yeah, we grow stuff in the toilet water.

Casting a glance at the billy goat, which is now starting to huff, Billy backs into Colonel Cage's two sons and turns to push past them out the door.

Common.

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The next room is a brilliantly lit room with a hydroponic gardening setup. Billy's face pops into view, with Colonel Cage's two sons just behind him, peering and bobbing on either side for a view. They all push into the room. Long trays on either side of the room are cascading down the wall, stacked such that the upper tray is close to the wall, the next tray offset from the wall slightly, and so on so that the vegetation in each tray can grow without hindrance as to height. One side has something that looks like lettuce or spinach. The other side is growing strawberries, which are filled with red berries.

The runners, producing new plants, are hanging down from each tray. A man is walking along the strawberry trays, inspecting the runners and snipping off new plants along the runners that look mature enough to stand on their own. These young plants have roots, but the roots are not in the hydroponic trays, just hanging in the air. The man turns his head and smiles at the boys.

Hello boys.

Seeing potential helpmates, the man puts his collection basket down and walks to the back of the room where there is what looks like a compost pile in a bin. He picks up a pitchfork, plastic with dull prongs, and begins to toss the compost. The compost is filled with red wriggler earthworms, which turn and try to burrow back into the compost when they are exposed to the light. He takes a spray nozzle from a wall clip and sprays the compost, kicking a collection tray under the compost drain as he does so. Brown water is collecting in the tray.

While he's waiting for the water to drain, he picks out brown chunks, the worm casts, and puts them in another collection basket at the side. He also grabs mature worms, placing them in yet another collection basket fixed at the side. He works quickly, not being exacting so much as doing the obvious - worm egg casts here, mature worms there. The boys have just been watching him as he goes though these moves, taking it all in. They're edging forward to stand by his side. He says,

We make our own nutrient solution from these worm beds. Best fertilizer in the world! We harvest the worms for protein too. They're 82% protein, did you know? We put these egg casts into new compost piles. They're full of baby worms.

And glancing over his shoulder at the boys, seeing that he has raised their interest.

Want to help?

The boys all say, in unison,

Sure!

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Inside the dome city, at night, the iridescent glow of the dome ceiling has been dimmed to simulate night. All is quiet except for the occasional splashing of the fountain. A chipmunki is nibbling a piece of cracker on one of the pathways in the center of the dome. Some ducks next to the fountain in the center of the dome are tucking their heads under their wings. A small monkey drops out of the trees and lopes across the grass. There is wildlife pets here in the biodome, living naturally in the open space. The ceiling is lit from lights along the edge of the dome top pram layer, setting off a nighttime glow in the soft material sprayed on the ceiling. The wildlife, as do the human residents, accepts this night and day as their world, without distress, so natural as to slip from notice after a day or two.

Suddenly a Zeta materializes in the center of the grassy area, startling the chipmunk who scampers away. He is joined by two others, and the three stride toward the ramp/stairway. They simply levitate up to the top tier of residences, rather than take the stairs. This levitation is done mid-stride, without missing a beat, as though a natural occurrence and something all three understood they would do, simultaneously, without a word spoken. They land on the continuous patio area that circles in front of all the residences on a level, shared by all on the level.

The three Zetas stride along the patio that runs continuously in front of all the residences running around the circumference of the dome and facing inward toward the dome center. The three Zetas stride for a few steps, then stop in front of a closed door. Though they haven't knocked or made noise, the door opens, a sleepy Jonah emerging in his pajama bottoms. They all seem to just stare at each other for a moment. Jonah asks,

How close are they?

One of the Zetas moves his hand slightly, and then Jonah panics, with some alarm in his voice.

Then we've got to do something! They'll blow us away! I know how these guys operate, they kill anything they can't rule!

A Zeta puts his hand up slightly, palm down in a dampening gesture.

I can't calm down, all these people ..

But the Zeta changes his gesture to run his fingers in a half circle in front of him.

Oh, oh, OK, I know I've asked you to help, and if you say that'll work, OK, OK, but, ahm, but, Christ, if it doesn't, we're dead ..

Jonah is clearly nervous about whatever has been discussed.

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Outside the dome city, the dull gray dome can barely be seen in the moonlight. Insects are thrumming in the humid summer night, which is enshrouded in mist General Flood and his sidekick, the diminutive and ever compliant Sergeant Hammond, are emerging from the woods. They are surveying the scene silently, and then the General quietly brags.

We can put a hole in it easy, and then its ours.

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Daybreak outside the dome city is brilliant, caused by the thick volcanic dust reflecting sunlight. A bird clinging to a reed along the river is welcoming the dawn with his song. There are sucking and splashing sounds as a boot pulls out of and lands again in the mud. A column of soldiers is moving toward the dome city.

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The entry way of the dome city is opened but no one is coming or going. This is a maneuver, inviting the attack. A helicopter comes into view, and a booming voice is heard, through a bullhorn.

This is your military speaking. Allow our inspection teams to enter or suffer the consequences. Send your leaders out with a white flag to indicate that you understand these orders.

The helicopter goes into a slow circle, well outside the perimeter of the dome. There is no response from inside the dome city at first, but then Jonah emerges, along with Colonel Cage, Big Tom, and the two soldiers who went AWOL with the Colonel. They are subtly antagonizing the General by showing themselves, as he brooks no insubordination. Inside the helicopter, General Flood is red faced with rage. He growls to himself and the pilot.

He's going to die and die slowly.

Then speaking through the intercom, he barks to his men on the ground.

Move the missile into place, let them see it.

A slender wheeled missile emerges from the woods, pushed by half a dozen soldiers. Several other soldiers emerge from the trees too, lining up along the edge of the woods. They are not dressed in uniform. Some have bandannas tied around their heads, some have long hair tied behind their heads in a pony tail, some have painted their faces, some carry long machete knives, but all wear fatigue pants and army boots. This is clearly no longer a formal military troop. Something invisible is moving through the grass, as though a sliding wall were being moved into place. The grass flattens and separates, weeds push aside and then are kept aside as though an invisible wall had been put into place. This line moves swiftly, with the sound of chopper blades throbbing overhead.

Cage, I'll have your liver for supper for this, and pickle your eyes!

Inside the Helicopter, General Flood barks orders through the intercom.

Bring out the hostage now, and shoot him.

Len is pushed forward, hands bound in front of him and one eye swollen shut, poked out during a fit of General Flood's rage during an interrogation session. He is stumbling with exhaustion and staggering, but is pushed forward until midway between the dome city representatives and the military troop. Inside the dome city entry, Clara is standing just inside the shelter of the entry way, viewing the scene. Her eyes fill with tears and her hand flutters to her mouth, but she says nothing, holding her breath and knowing she can't influence the outcome. Netty puts her arm around Clara's shoulder, gripping it. Red is standing behind the pair. Accustomed to taking action during any emergency, but unable to do so in this case, he has a consternated look on his face. We hear a shot ring out, and see Clara drop in a faint, as several other arms move forward to grip her, trying to break her fall. Clara falls back on top of Red and they both sink to the floor in a heap.

Oh my, oh my.

Inside the helicopter, General Flood bellows arrogantly into the bullhorn.

The rest of you have five seconds to raise your hands and let my inspection team come forward, or we'll blow your little nest and all the little birdies inside sky high! Five seconds! Five, four, three, two, one.

General Flood pauses, his face muscles working in rage, his face florid with rage at having been defied.

.. All right men, let 'em have it!

The group standing in front of the dome city remains unmoved, unflinching. They had expected that both the men held by General Flood had been killed, so this is no surprise, and they are aware of the shield and whether they trust it to hold or not, they have no alternative in their minds. Death, for them and their families, is better than being overtaken by this group. This is why the entry door has been left open, so that if the shield fails, all will die suddenly, as a group. Big Tom, speaking softly to his comrades, shows their resolve.

Better this way than living under tyranny, eh, boys?

The missile makes a humming sound, and then with a flash at the jet end, moves forward so suddenly that the eye cannot follow it. Just as suddenly it hits an invisible shield and the explosion sprays backward over the men and the trees, a fireball fanning out, frying all within range. There is a shriek or two, but death is quick. As the flames quickly die down over the metal shards from the shattered missile, the chopper blades can still be heard overhead. The muscles on General Flood's face are working. The General snaps at the pilot.

Take it down and land on top of them!

The pilot glances nervously at the General's face, and seeing that no argument will do, moves the joy stick to aim the chopper down. The chopper descends, hits the invisible barrier, and explodes into a flaming wreck. The group standing in front of the dome city allows themselves to breath again. The citizens of the dome city are coming forward, tentatively at first. They look to the right and left, agape at the wreckage. Martha is rushing forward to embrace her husband, followed by the oldest son of Colonel Cage, who throws his arms around his dad from the back, essentially hugging his butt. Ian has a look of relief on his face. He quickly turns to the side and vomits, allowing himself to feel his fear now that the danger is past.